Namibia: Govt Houses Cheap As Chips

13 September 2019

A SENIOR government official bought a N$1,8 million house in Windhoek from the state for N$336 000, despite a directive by the finance ministry not to sell the government houses for peanuts.

This transaction is one of five property deals that appear to be a scheme tailored to use taxpayers' money to build million-dollar houses and then sell them to officials for a song.

The five houses, mainly in leafy areas like Suiderhof, Academia and Pionierspark, were constructed for more than a million dollars each, and are now being sold at an average discount price of N$250 000.

Works minister John Mutorwa wants to know why the houses are being sold for next to nothing, but his top administrator, executive secretary Willem Goeiemann, appears to be ignoring him.

These transactions date back to close to a decade.

Cabinet secretary George Simataa - then works permanent secretary - wrote to Cabinet on 12 December 2010, asking the state to build houses for five civil servants who were set to vacate government houses in Windhoek.

"Cabinet approved that eight houses be constructed on available vacant government plots to accommodate the affected eight tenants at a maximum cost of N$7,5 million," he stated.

He said this money would come from the sale of government houses.

"That Cabinet authorises that the affected tenants be given the opportunity to buy these houses at the same price and conditions as their allocated houses in the central business district area," Simataa wrote.

The works ministry relocated several civil servants who lived in government houses in Windhoek's Southern Industrial Area to pave the way for the construction of the Roads Authority's offices about five years ago.

In return, the works ministry promised to build them new houses elsewhere.

FOOTPRINT

Documents seen by The Namibian show that the works ministry -- under the then minister Alpheus !Naruseb -- got Tender Board approval in July 2015 to construct those five houses.

One of the tenders was given to Eramu Trading CC - to build a house for around N$2 million on erf 1459 in Pionierspark.

In a 2016 internal circular by the works executive secretary, Goeiemann said the N$2 million house would be sold for N$240 000 to Mazinza Muhinda from the land reform ministry.

Muhinda said yesterday she moved into the house last month, but she had not yet received the offer to buy the house.

"Should we be crucified for the slow pace of the works ministry? This is not the first time that civil servants are buying houses. Others bought new houses in Olympia," she observed.

Another tender beneficiary was Nepando Trading CC. They were asked to build a house for N$1,8 million on erf 1558 in Pionierspark. Simon Shivute from the safety ministry was set to buy that property for N$205 000.

Shivute told The Namibian yesterday that the government promised them new houses. He said he did not get the offer to buy the house, but got the keys to continue renting it. He did not move into the house because the contractor left an outstanding N$40 000 water bill.

Mandino Construction CC was awarded a tender of around N$3,7 million to construct two houses - on erf 4439 and erf 4416 in Suiderhof. The cost of each house was put at around N$1,8 million.

Esandel Properties CC was given a N$1,6 million tender for erf 397 in Academia. This house was set to be sold to Patricia Sinchembe from the works ministry.

'OTHERS DID IT TOO'

Erf 4439 was set to be sold for N$336 000 to Gilbert Mutwa from the justice ministry, while erf 4416 was sold to Eunice Tongo in March this year for N$336 000.

Mutwa told The Namibian yesterday that he is still waiting to buy the house.

"Some of our colleagues bought houses cheaply in areas like Klein Windhoek and Suiderhof. They sold the houses, and are now living large," he said.

Mutwa worked as a legal drafter in the justice ministry until 2017 when he retired from the public service.

He is unhappy about the quality of the house which was constructed by the government for him for more than N$1,7 million.

"The doors fall when you open them. My dear, to have a hot bath, I have to boil the water," he explained yesterday.

Tongo - an official in the finance ministry - bought the house on the 2 000 square metre state land in March this year, despite a treasury directive in 2017 that the government houses should not be sold without the ministry's permission, as outlined by the law.

She told The Namibian yesterday that she is not to blame for buying a N$1,8 million house for N$336 000.

"Some people bought new houses in Olympia cheaper. I was supposed to buy the house at a lower price," she said, adding that the price was influenced by Cabinet decisions on selling houses.

FIRE WITH FIRE

All hell broke loose in March this year when the ministry's property department tipped off Mutorwa that houses were being sold for next to nothing.

Mutorwa subsequently wrote to Goeiemann on 19 July 2019, asking about the sale of the five houses.

"Who, within the ministry of works and transport, determined the value of N$336 000, and not N$1,8 million as determined by the land reform ministry, as it is supposed to be?" he asked.

The minister asked why the sale of the house had not been communicated to senior officials in the fixed assets management department.

"Why was the said house sold on 29 March 2019 for N$336 000? Who signed the power of attorney? May I have copies of the said documents?" Mutorwa demanded.

The minister questioned why Goeiemann approved the sale, despite advice from the ministery's property department which advised them not to sell the government houses until Cabinet pronounced itself on the matter.

"How will Cabinet advice be obtained if the Cabinet has not been or is not officially informed and/or requested, through a Cabinet submission, signed by the line minister, accordingly and appropriately? How much losses have been incurred hitherto?" Mutorwa asked.

The minister also asked Goeiemann to provide him with documents from the auditor general dated 10 July 2019, and a list of all houses sold from 2018 to 2019, as submitted to the auditor general.

"May I kindly receive your written response, by not later than Friday, 26 July 2019?" he requested.

The Namibianunderstands that Goeiemann has continuously undermined Mutorwa, and has taken as much as two months to answer the minister's questions on why the government houses were sold cheaply.

Sources indicated that Goeiemann only answered Mutorwa in the last two weeks, and that he has in some instances refused to answer questions by Mutorwa.

Mutorwa instructed Goeiemann to answer questions sent to him since he is the main administrator in the works and transport ministry.

Goeiemann vaguely answered some questions two weeks ago, but vowed that he would not answer additional questions, even if he was ordered to by Mutorwa.

The minister arranged a ministerial meeting last week - while Goeiemann was on leave - to discuss this matter to The Namibian's questions in detail.

Goeiemann admitted to The Namibian last week that million-dollar houses were sold for as little as N$200 000 in well-off areas, but claimed that they had put the brakes on that practice to consult Cabinet.

* This story was produced by The Namibian's Investigative Unit. Send us story tips via your secure email to: investigations@namibian.com.na

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